[JPL] Thoroughly Modern, With More Than a Hint of Classicism

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Wed Mar 21 18:55:43 EDT 2007

March 17, 2007
Music Review | Steve Kuhn Trio
Thoroughly Modern, With More Than a Hint of Classicism

The Steve Kuhn Trio, which wraps up a four-night run
tonight at Birdland, makes music rich with harmonic
possibility and bright, ebullient swing. It’s an
effortlessly modern enterprise, with roots stretching
through a tangle of post-bop traditions. For any
admirer of jazz piano, or articulate small-group jazz
in general, it’s something that shouldn’t be missed. 

Steve Kuhn, an intelligent and well-

traveled pianist, leads the group, which features the
accomplished rhythm team of Ron Carter on bass and Al
Foster on drums. Together they have a new album, “Live
at Birdland” (Blue Note), recorded in July. At the
time of that engagement, the three musicians were
reconvening after a hiatus of 20 years. And as the
evidence shows, they had no problem finding common

Their first set on Wednesday night drew sensibly from
the album, opening with the same Frank Loesser
standard, “If I Were a Bell.” Mr. Kuhn began with a
familiar sequence of ringing octaves, the toll of a
clock tower, before easing into a medium swing. Mr.
Foster met him at every turn: after switching from
brushes to sticks, he subtly intensified the forward
tilt of his ride cymbal pattern with each new chorus.

Mr. Kuhn’s playing conveys more than a wisp of
classicism, and he doesn’t shy away from drawing
formal connections in the music. At one point he
offered a pairing of themes: “La Plus Que Lente,” by
Debussy, and “Passion Flower,” by Billy Strayhorn. He
played the first melody as a languorous solo piano
meditation and the second as a lightly percolating
samba with bass and drums. 

Impressionism also fluttered, a bit less
conspicuously, through the trio’s superb rendition of
Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.” Here Mr. Carter took
the spotlight, with a solo that began in a brisk waltz
time and upshifted into an even quicker 4/4 walking
swing. Breezy but purposeful, he flirted with an array
of extended harmonies, steadily abstracting the form
of the song. Then he pulled back again, setting up a
strolling tempo. 

In the coda that followed, Mr. Kuhn allowed himself
some sweeping overhand flourishes; a few knife-blade
plinks with his right thumb; a sonorous whole-tone
cascade; and, finally, a music-box twirl in the
uppermost register. It was a deft display, but somehow
not an exhibition, set against the context of the

The trio struck a similar sense of balance on a
barnburner (Rudy Stevenson’s “On Stage”); a ballad
(“Don’t Explain,” by Arthur Herzog Jr. and Billie
Holiday); and a blues (“Two by Two,” harmonically
jury-rigged by Mr. Kuhn). And in the set closer, a
calypso take on Sonny Rollins’s “Airegin,” they also
hit upon a playful effervescence. When the song ended,
after a boppish solo by Mr. Foster, so did the set. It
was time, but it felt too soon.

The Steve Kuhn Trio performs tonight at Birdland, 315
West 44th Street, Clinton; (212) 581-3080 or


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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